May 24, 2019  

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Smith: “Next Steps” Crucial in Graduates’ Success

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Dr. William “Bill” Smith addresses graduates at USM’s fall 2016 commencement Friday, Dec. 16 on the Hattiesburg campus. (Photo by Kelly Dunn)

Now with their degree in hand, graduates of The University of Southern Mississippi should take the next steps using what they’ve learned to secure successful careers or advance their education through professional and graduate degree programs.

That was the message from the fall 2016 commencement speaker at Southern Miss, retired USM marketing professor Dr. William “Bill” Smith, who urged his audience to be prepared to brace themselves for change in a time of great transition, not only with changes in technology but in the way organizations are managed and operated.

And while its human nature to resist change, he believes it can be a good thing for this new crop of graduates. “In an age of transition, your opportunities will abound,” he said. “To take advantage of these opportunities, we need an open mind. We love our habits, routines and experiences, but when you face something new they’re not so valuable anymore.”

Smith pointed to the plethora of inventions, just in our lifetime, that have revolutionized the world, and he told USM graduates they must be willing and prepared to adapt going forward. “You will need to build your skills and your knowledge to cope and prosper as things around us change,” he said.

Calling on his audience to employ an acronym, LEARN, Smith broke down its five key elements: look and listen; engage with energy and enthusiasm; know what your ask/answer ratio is (making sure the numerator ‘ask’ is larger than the denominator ‘answer'); record, review and reflect; and always pursue what’s next.

“When I was starting off, I asked a mentor what was the secret to being successful. He told me ‘Plan your work and work your plan.’ He was 100 percent correct.”

One of Dr. Smith’s former students, Shelby Cook Turnage of McComb, Miss. received her diploma at fall commencement and was thrilled he served as keynote speaker. Turnage, who earned a degree in healthcare marketing with a certificate in professional selling, will go to work after graduation as marketing director for InTeleMed in Hattiesburg.

“There are not enough positive words to express how much of an asset he is to both the University of Southern Mississippi and any student who’s had the opportunity to take his courses,” Turnage said. “It’s truly special for me that perhaps the most impactful professor of my college career was the commencement speaker for my graduation. 

“He consistently reminded his students that you can accomplish anything if you simply believe that you can. I would not be who I am today without the immense impact his instruction had on both my professional and personal life.”

In closing, Dr. Smith reminded his audience that their Southern Miss family, including their faculty mentors, would always be there for them. “You have a backup team,” he said. “All the people in the robes sitting in the stands would love to hear from you and help whenever possible. You are always one of ours.

“And from this day forward, you are a Golden Eagle, and eagles do one thing better than all – eagles soar.”